Homemade Rust Removal

The process I’m using to remove rust with this jig is called electrolysis. It involves the passing of low voltage DC current between the part and an electrode, though an electrolyte solution (in this case water and washing soda). I’m not one to explain the science part behind this, I barely understand it myself, but there’s plenty of information on it on the internet.

First thing I need a container to hold the electrolyte and for the base for the jig. A clean plastic bucket is ideal for this as it’s mostly inert, non conductive and free. I’ve seen various takes at this, but most are basically a plastic container in various shapes and sizes.

Then a DC power source, in the video I’ve used an old 12V 1 Amp car charger, but it was struggling and I later replaced it with a 12V 3 Amp laptop charger that works great for a jig of this size. It does not warm a bit, it removes rust fast and is also fully encased in a plastic case, which makes it feel a bit safer.

As electrolyte I use washing soda (Sodium carbonate, Na₂CO₃). It’s a basic detergent and can be found in most countries. In the states Arm&Hammer is a common brand. Not to be confused with other types of soda, like baking soda or caustic soda, which could be very dangerous!

A plain iron electrode is needed and I used some leftover sheet metal I had. I’ve seen some people use rebar or other iron scraps. The important thing is that it needs to be plain iron, not treated in any way, not stainless, not galvanized and in no case any other metal. Using anything than iron might release harmful gases.

In time this electrode will get covered in rust, but I washed mine with a wire brush after each use and it looks like it will hold for a long time. The round shape helps with rust removal, since it’s mostly a line of sight process. People that used rebar had multiple pieces of them placed around the inside of the bucket to form a circle connected with wire above the water level.

The parts to be derusted are hung from a wood scrap piece using iron wire. Again the use of any other metal wire is dangerous. The wood acts as an insulator between the two poles so it should not be wet. Plastic pipe could also be used.

When the jig was ready I filled it with water and added two small cups of washing soda.

Then the parts were completely submerged in the water and connected to the 12 Volt power supply. Negative to the parts and positive to the scrap iron. The charger was not plugged in when I did this. Only when all things were set up I started the power source.

While working the jig releases some flammable gases so I worked outside. I also kept an eye on it for the whole time, since the charger was getting real hot.

After an hour the parts were done. They are no longer covered in rust, just a black residue that is easily brushed off. This part was a bit controversial in the video, since some people did not see what’s the advantage of electrolysis if I had to use the wire brush too. But there’s a huge difference in the rust and the black residue. The rust is attached to the part and almost impossible to remove by hand with a small brush like that, while the black thing is almost like dirt. Soft and easy to clean. Basically I washed the parts, did not put any effort in the brushing and was done in less than five minutes.

The results were above my expectations and this jig keeps surprising me every time I use it.

This is not the only way to remove rust. I know. I got tired of the alternatives suggested in the comments, again and again, like it’s forbidden to do something differently. I wonder, if they see a video with a guy using a table saw they keep suggesting him to use a hand saw or band saw or whatever?

Mainly two other methods came up again and again: vinegar and wire brushes. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Vinegar (like most acids) is great for small parts, but for large parts, like a lathe bed or car body it’s impractical to buy tons of it. Wire brush is fast but rough and won’t go into tight corners or holes. Also it’s too noisy and messy for my taste. But it is fast and practical in some applications.

Please let me know in the comments below if you need more things cleared about this video.

WARNING! This is not a tutorial, it’s just the way I did this jig, for my personal use. I’m not teaching or encouraging you to do something stupid like this! We’re talking water and electricity, chemicals, rusted objects and hazardous gases! Dangerous stuff! Use vinegar, it works and it’s safer.




15 thoughts on “Homemade Rust Removal

  • February 29, 2016 at 4:27 am
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    If you reverse the polarity does it not force the rust back into the part which causes the rust to actually become just part of the part again. I have heard you can use electrolysis in this way. Curious, have you ever tried reversing the polarity? Thanks Dave

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    • February 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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      I’m not sure that’s how it works, or if it just ads more rust to the part. I never tried it but I’ll give it a shot next time I get the jig out.

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  • March 14, 2016 at 9:24 am
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    I have done electrolytic derusting many times for several years. I no longer use small battery-charger type power supplies, having burned up a few. I now use a proper DC power supply which can source 30 amps at 30 volts (or less) in either current source or voltage source mode. I think the larger your piece is, the more current you need. In fact, there is probably a good working range for amps per square inch, but I don’t know what that range is.

    I also don’t use steel for the anode either. The problem is that as it oxidizes its resistance goes up – way up. And cleaning anodes isn’t my idea of fun (although wire brushing isn’t the way, just use a different piece of steel instead of your workpiece and reverse the polarity and it will clean your anode for you). Rather, I use sheet lead. Lead oxidizes too but lead oxide conducts current just fine. And you can keep using it for years. It forms easily around boxes or buckets and is malleable enough so you can just flatten it back out for storage. And the lead oxide isn’t soluble, either (or like 99.99% insoluble to be technical about it), so the bath stays clear and you can use it over and over again.

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  • March 26, 2016 at 1:01 am
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    Hi Steve,
    I haven’t tried it yet but I am sure it work as it did for you and I’d like to be one to give you many thanks for spending your time to post this video for us. It is very considerate of you and I, as an 61 year old man, well it seems to me that I should have known this years ago as much as I work with metal all the time. I generally take off to the bench grinder to clean parts but you have started a new wave for me.
    I have parts, bolts, etc. etc. up the yang, yang that has rust on them and I will take your idea to a new level for you.
    I am going to take a large plastic tote basket, some of the scrape sheet metal I have and bend the electrode similar to yours but flat in the appropriate place to fit in it, and then make a basket to ppour nuts and bolts, small parts, etc. in and hook her up.
    With as much rusty metal that I have in this small shop now, I might turn it into a “NICE & SHINY
    Now I was just wondering if we could take it up even another notch??
    What if I were to set my welder on it’s lowest DC amps, which I think is 30 amps if I am correct without having to go to the shop to look and make sure?
    I think that I will give that a try and since you started this, give me an e-mail at BadFordRanger2000@yahoo.com and I’ll tell you how it goes and maybe I can even send you whatever I can to help your post out!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Take care Bro and thanks for the heads up.
    Dennis

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  • April 11, 2016 at 11:50 am
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    Hello Steve,
    Mr Dennis is asking What if I were to set my welder on it’s lowest DC amp with experience do you think sir that it will work? How about using a power supply charger used in two way radio power supply of 13.8 v can i use it in rust removal same with your procedure?

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  • April 25, 2016 at 9:40 pm
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    Will this process remove rust from the inside of a tube or hollow cavity as well as the outside? i have a lot of things that are hollow and have rust inside as well as outside.

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  • August 31, 2016 at 1:44 am
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    How much washing soda do you use to mix with the water?

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    • October 3, 2016 at 10:31 am
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      About one small coffee cup for a bucket of water.

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  • September 30, 2016 at 8:06 pm
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    The right current to be use in electrolyse start’s at 12 volts DC and goes until 48 volts, the amperes depends, if you ike to do the thing very fast you can use 30A – 50A, but usualy 10 -15 A are suficiente.
    The voltage must be low, for safety.

    Reply
  • October 17, 2016 at 2:49 am
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    Steve – many thanks for taking the trouble to make the video and post this info for other people to use!

    With best regards,

    Jack

    Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 12:24 pm
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    Hey Steve,
    Thanks for posting this. I somehow just happened upon it. I’ve always heard this process was the way to go but never took the time to try it.
    I’ve been working metal as a hobby for the last couple of decades. From forging my own knives and tools to house warming whirligigs.
    couple of questions before I burn my shop down.
    1. I’ll preface by saying I’m a semi retired an Exec. Pastry Chef currently owning a 20+ yr. old bakery.
    I mention this because of your use of washing soda. Are you using the washing soda over using baking soda because of chemical make up, or is there other ingredients in the washing soda that help with the rust removal?
    Asking because if it’s the chemical make up, and someone does not have access to the Na2 Co3 but has baking soda 2NaH Co3, the difference between the two is just moisture/water. So to remove the H2O and CO2, just spread the baking soda out on a sheet pan and put in an oven at 300F for a little over and hour. Removing the moisture will result in Na2 Co3.
    2. Baking is a science so I am programmed to create and follow detailed weights and measures.
    So I’m hesitant in going forth mainly because of the amount of electrolyte suggested. small cups, coffee cups, etc. For me, a cup is 8oz. volume. weight? variable. I’m assuming the soda plays a role in the travel of electricity through the water.
    I’m reading about chargers getting hot and such. So not only do I find this dangerous but I don’t want to start trashing energy sources.
    Wouldn’t the amount of soda play a role. I’m completely electrically challenged, but wouldn’t there be a density of solution that would be optimal and avoiding the overload of the electrical source?
    Most likely it’s to involved. Probably why you mentioned to bird dog the process.
    I’m sure some of my auto/bike chargers have an adjustable needle gauge, If I set up the jig with everything except the soda, then charged it and added some soda slowly, wouldn’t it translate to the gauge. If the needle is moving than i would assume the solution is not dense enough. Keep adding soda until the needle slows or stops.
    I’m not really sure if my thinking that the denser solution would inhibit the flow or not is correct.
    I was picturing in my head that a thin solution would increase flow and over heat the charger. I may be completely wrong.
    Sorry, I apologize for being lengthy or rambling. Just anal and like to do my due diligence before touching electricity or gases.
    Thanks again Steve

    Reply
    • October 20, 2016 at 7:38 am
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      Basically, more electrolyte you add means more current will flow trough. So a thinner solution will be slower but will be easier on the charger. Of course there is some science involved, but because of the different shapes, sizes and composition of the objects you are trying to remove rust from I think it’s next to impossible to calculate the exact amount of water, electrolyte, time and electricity required. So I just fly by the seats of my pants, but never leave the jig unattended. I now use a 12 volt/ 3 amp laptop charger as the power source and it works great for the size of this jig. It takes around one hour to clean small parts, like hand tools and such.

      Reply
  • November 3, 2016 at 3:11 pm
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    Can anybody assist Me in cleaning Stainless steel. My kitchen burned and all the Stainless tee pots, mugs, etc. got burned Black with smook root.I tried costic soda + water it staarted ,but had NO resolds HELP. JAN. Cape Town. za.

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  • November 3, 2016 at 3:16 pm
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    Your project seems to work well, no help Me I nead to clean Stainless steel kitchen appliances, our kitchen Bured and all the Stainless app. got burned Black with smook soot, HELP.

    Reply

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